The Bowie Baysox lost 7-6 to the Richmond Flying Squirrels Saturday night, falling behind 6-0 before mustering a rally that came up just short of catching the Squirrels. The Baysox struggled to get anything going offensively against Squirrels starter Craig Westcott through the first four innings, as he retired 12 batters in a row before faltering in the fifth inning and letting Bowie back in the game.
Baltimore native Steve Johnson had a poor start on the mound, giving up five runs on five hits as he matched a career high with six walks.
“Nothing was working for me,” Johnson said. “I tried to throw my curveball for a strike, and I was bouncing it. Then my slider was OK, but it wasn’t throwing for a strike. They were all good pitches for if I was ahead, but I was never ahead today so they just stood on every ball. When I did throw a strike, we had a couple guys made some pretty good plays for me. I’ve got to give them credit. When you’re throwing a lot of balls, it’s easy for the team to go to sleep. The guys picked me up a little bit, and unfortunately I couldn’t pick them up. It was nice to have that behind me.”
“I usually have a couple starts then a game where you have to battle,” he said. “And the games where I’ve had to battle, have been a big struggle this season. I haven’t had this problem before, it’s just one of those I have to work through it. Hopefully I have a couple good starts to end the season and hopefully we make the playoffs and I can get a couple good starts there.
Johnson struggled right away, walking Brad Boyer and Thomas Neal with one out before Brandon Belt cleared the bases with a three-run shot to right field with a full count. It was Johnson’s Eastern League-leading 23rd home run allowed.
He was fortunate to keep the deficit at 3-0 through the second and third innings. Johnson loaded the bases with three walks in the top of the second inning before he caught Neal looking on a full count to escape the inning. Belt drew a walk to begin the third inning and moved to second on Conor Gillaspie’s single to center field. First baseman Sharlon Schoop flied out to right field for the first out on an impressive diving grab by Jonathan Tucker and center fielder Clay Timpner grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Squirrels broke through again in the top of the fourth inning. Shortstop Ryan Lormand hit a single to left field and took second on second baseman Nick Noonan’s single to right field. Boyer plated Lormand with a single to left field that chased Johnson from the game and left Noonan on third base as Ryohei Tanaka took over on the hill. Neal drove Noonan in for a 5-0 lead with a sacrifice fly to center field before Belt’s fly out ended the inning.
Richmond extended their lead with one more run in the top of the fifth inning. Gillaspie hit a leadoff double off the center field wall and moved to third on Schoop’s single to left field. Timpner drove Gillaspie in with a sacrifice fly to center field for a 6-0 lead.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter arrived at the end of the fourth inning to see Orioles reliever Jim Johnson pitch as part of his Major League rehab assignment. With Showalter watching from the dugout, the Baysox scored their first runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Eastern League All-Star Tyler Henson ended an 0-for-19 stretch with a leadoff single to center field and moved to second when catcher Caleb Joseph drew a walk. Shortstop Greg Miclat loaded the bases with a single to right field, and Tucker walked on four pitches, giving Henson a free pass across the plate for Bowie’s first run of the night.
Center fielder Xavier Avery plated Joseph and Miclat with a single up the middle of the diamond, and the bases were loaded again on second baseman Carlos Rojas’ single to left field. Third baseman Ryan Adams drew the second bases-loaded walk of the inning, plating Tucker to cut the Richmond lead to 6-4.
Eastern League home run leader Joel Guzman walked to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out, but hit a line drive to Noonan, who flipped the ball to Lormand covering second for a double play. First baseman Brandon Waring drew the fourth walk of the inning to load the bases again. Batting for the second time in the inning, Henson struck out looking to end the rally.
Jim Johnson entered in the top of the sixth inning and retired the first batter he faced on a line drive to left field. He gave up a solo home run on a high change-up that Neal knocked over the wall in left-center field for a 7-4 lead. Johnson retired the next two batters and finished the inning with 20 pitches, striking out Gillaspie looking for the third out.
“I felt like I had better release on my fastball tonight,” said Johnson, who pitched a perfect inning in Friday’s win. “Some location was better, not great, but better. Curveball was all right, it was all right the other night. Change-up today was a little hard coming out, a little flat, but I wanted to throw it. I wanted to throw it more because that’s an important pitch for me. I got what I needed to get accomplished.
“I went into the outing wanting to throw change-ups,” he said. “I wanted to throw a change-up pretty much every at-bat. I didn’t execute it, and that’s what’s going to happen. Better it happens here than at the next level.”
Undeterred by the long ball, the Baysox kept attacking the Richmond lead in the bottom of the sixth inning. Joseph led off with a single to center field, but was forced out at second base when Miclat grounded into a fielder’s choice. Tucker hit a double to left field that left Miclat and third base and they both scored on Avery’s double to right field, his second two-RBI base hit in as many innings. Avery is on a roll, extending his hit streak to seven games as he went 3-for-5 with four RBIs on the night with 10 runs driven in over his last five games. The second wave of Baysox offense subsided after Rojas drew a walk, and Adams and Guzman were retired to end the inning, with Bowie trailing by just a run at 7-6.
“I played like it was just my regular coaches here,” Avery said. “I saw [Showalter], but I just did my normal thing. I mean, it definitely felt good that he was here and he saw me play well. I played good tonight. I feel like I’m settling in, getting comfortable with the pitching here.”
Unfortunately, the Baysox could not clear the final hurdle, as Richmond relievers David Quinowski and Rafael Cova closed out the game by facing the minimum number of hitters through the final three innings. Quinowski picked up the win with a walk and no hits through 2.0 innings and Cova notched his Eastern League-leading 21st save with a perfect ninth inning.
With the loss, the Baysox fall to 66-59, and they hold on to second place and the final playoff spot by a thread, just half a game ahead of third-place Harrisburg, whose game with fourth-place Akron was rained out. The Baysox are now 7.0 games behind first-place Altoona.
The Baysox play one more game against the Flying Squirrels, Sunday at 6:05 p.m. The Akron Aeros come to town after Richmond for four games in three days with a doubleheader on Monday at 6:05 p.m. Fans can catch the Baysox for a record-low price of one dollar on Wednesday, Aug. 25, with a coupon that can be printed out from Baysox.com.